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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Chechnya for NATO?

It would appear that the West is seriously preparing to use force to compel the Bosnian Serbs to negotiate a peace settlement in a war that has rent the former Yugoslavia for more than three years now. NATO's military planning committee has hastily put together a list of possible targets for air strikes, including supply and communications lines for the Serbian army, bridges and other infrastructure elements. French and British forces have been conducting reconnaissance in the hills around Sarajevo, ostensibly in order to secure the "safe zone," but really with an eye toward conducting punitive strikes against the Bosnian Serbs. At the same time, the UN Secretary General has transferred authority for ordering air strikes to the UN military commander in Bosnia, which significantly streamlines the entire process.


During all this, Russian diplomats have tried to save face with numerous peace initiatives, but no one seems to be listening. But if Russian policies were being determined by cynical people capable of planning several moves ahead, then one might just begin to think that this apparent diplomatic defeat could be the biggest foreign-policy success for Russia in quite some time. And for one simple reason: If the West seriously begins military action in Bosnia, within two weeks no one in the world will even remember Chechnya. The Bosnian Serb capital Pale will become the next Grozny.


The only surprising thing here is that none of the world's leaders seems to be willing to learn from the sad experience of others. After all, the current situation in Bosnia is developing in precise parallel with the situation in Chechnya just before the Russian Army moved in last December. Judge for yourselves: A nation is trying to secure territory for itself and achieve sovereignty. In order to achieve these goals, it is willing to participate in ethnic cleansing and other crimes. Outside powers try to restrain this nation with their own demands, but it steadfastly rejects them. An illusion of military superiority develops, the idea that "might makes right" takes hold. This picture applies equally well to Chechnya and to the regime in Pale.


There are even more coincidences on the military level. It might seem amusing (if it weren't so sad) that the same analysts who just a year ago were predicting a quick victory for the Russian Army in Chechnya are now talking about a rapid NATO win in Bosnia. They are following the same, primitive logic expressed in the Russian saying, "There's nothing you can do against a crowbar." These analysts simply contrast the military potential of both sides and note that one side has an overwhelming advantage in modern weaponry as well as complete air superiority.


But, on the other hand, generals and other military professionals -- in contrast to analysts and politicians -- are far from optimistic about the success of a military operation in Bosnia. They understand perfectly well that the ability to carry out air strikes does not in itself guarantee the success of the overall operation. And this is not just because the mountainous terrain limits the effectiveness of air power. More importantly, the West cannot be certain that air strikes would be able to demoralize the Serbs and force them to compromise. More likely, foreign interference would simply stiffen their resistance.


It is absolutely clear that the Bosnian Moslems will try to take advantage of air strikes conducted against the Serbs. The mere threat of NATO strikes has alrady been enough to spur Croatia into military action. It should be recalled that the Bosnian and Croatian armies are not made up of angels either. Most likely, air strikes would be followed by renewed ethnic cleansing and other cruelties, which would merely reinforce the Bosnian Serb conviction that the war is a just cause.


It must also be admitted that the tanks and heavy artillery that the Bosnian Serbs would stand to lose in the event of air strikes are far from key factors in this war, which is essentially being conducted by partisan means. In such wars, a far more important factor is the willingness of the combatants to sacrifice their lives rather than fail to achieve their military objectives. In short, after air strikes the West will simply have a country with an even more seriously crippled infrastructure and an even greater number of people pushed to still greater extremes of cruelty.


For such people, revenge will become the only thing left. And it is not hard to figure out that the object of their revenge will be UN peacekeepers on the ground. Events themselves would transform these troops from a multinational protection force into something like an army of occupation. The result will be the same painfully familiar situation that the world has seen in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia and, of course, Chechnya: attacks on military posts, diversionary raids, a bloody partisan war that could drag on for years.


And, still more importantly, there is no reason to think that such a partisan war would be limited to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After a brief respite, terrorism has once again become popular among extremists all around the world. Following last week's bomb blast in the Paris metro, for instance, some early speculation centered on the possibility that that explosion was somehow connected to supposed French air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions in Pale. If Western attacks begin in earnest, will Washington, Paris and London be able to shield themselves from events like Budyonnovsk or, more likely, Oklahoma City?


All our woeful experience with "forceful peacekeeping" and "humanitarian intervention" -- which are just euphemisms for military interference in internal conflicts -- proves beyond all doubt that even absolute military superiority cannot produce beneficial results. Efforts to slice through such Gordian knots by force only pull them tighter and make them more difficult to untangle.





Alexander Golz is a political commentator for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.